Articles and News

Budgets, Sustainability & Planning for the Future

Angelita Menchaca, Reliant Commercial Construction

Over the past several years, facility managers have been under mounting pressure to create more sustainable and 'green-friendly' environments, however most have also been faced with shrinking budgets and limited manpower. So how is a responsible FM supposed to reconcile these opposing forces? While it may seem like an impossible task, with some planning and research it can be done.

Being green and cost-effective is possible. For some companies, sustainability issues are seen as an opportunity to build positive PR and reinforce a 'green' brand image. For others however, the issue is not so much environmental as economic, and 'sustainability' is just a euphemism for extending the life of assets to get more out of them in the first place. Whatever the reason, sustainability is an honorable goal and most recent studies have shown that the cost of creating and maintaining a sustainable facilities program are outweighed by lowering standard operating costs in a relatively short period of time. That said, defending a proposed maintenance budget to corporate executives is much easier when specific details of future performance and savings can be accurately estimated, so a system for this process must be in place if it does not already exist.

Measurement Is Critical
You cannot effectively manage what you cannot measure. Facility maintenance budgets are often based on established metrics, such as the previous year's maintenance expenditures, with just a little wiggle room for inflation and perhaps renovations. On the outset, this is a perfectly logical method for basing fund distribution and it has worked sufficiently in the past. However, this budgeting method doesn't take into account the current condition of the facilities, nor the cost of deferred maintenance, so funding is often insufficient. So before making any changes to existing structures and procedures it's important to establish baseline measurements to which any future changes can be compared.

To establish baseline measurements, a thorough study of a building's operational inefficiencies is critical. Essentially, the process involves an engineering firm or professional energy-efficiency expert to come in and look at every aspect of the building envelope. This includes measuring indoor air quality (IAQ), water usage, lighting levels, heating and cooling expenditures, etc., and suggesting what measures can be taken to improve efficiencies and reduce operating costs. The results of this study will provide a starting point for setting goals and measuring the impact of your efforts--both of which will be beneficial when presenting your work to your superiors and continued planning. Costs for such "retrocomissioning" walk-throughs can vary widely depending on the geographic location, type of facility involved, the complexity of its systems, and the type and number of systems that are going to be retrofitted, but estimates range from $0.50 per square foot up to $2 per square foot.

If the facilities being managed are retail stores with established design standards (all the stores are exact replicants of eachother), an individual energy study of the standard design may eliminate the need to survey every store. Additionally,if store energy consumption per store and/or per SF of store data is available, tabulating this data will readily identify the outliers which will provide direction to your efforts.

A less costly alternative, albeit less formal and (possibly) less thorough, is inviting your lighting, HVAC and maintenance vendors to walk through your facilities with you and do their own checks and measurements. Remember, these vendors have a stake in your sustainability as well, and have their own unique knowledge to share, so although they may try to sell you on their products and/or services, the free or discounted energy audit may prove invaluable as they identify energy-vampires you may have otherwise missed.

Another good reference source for facilities managers is the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system or a trusted, locally-focused sustainability rating system. Applying for these certifications, or even just reviewing their models, ensure that you make the right improvements with the appropriate materials using the proper methods.

Focus Where the Bang Is the Biggest
The retrocommissioning process itself can vary in complexity, depending on your goals, but some areas will have a more significant impact on reducing energy use and operating costs than others. Normally, the largest inefficiencies can be found in the building's heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems. HVAC systems account for the majority of building operating costs and so targeting these systems for improvements can make the most significant impact to an organization's bottom line.

Corporate buy-in is essential. Intellectually, corporate executives know the importance of ongoing maintenance, the effects neglect can have, and the importance of being environmentally friendly. However, they are still driven by the bottom-line. So when proposing or defending your budget requests, make clear definitions of what you're asking for, support your requests with relevant statistics (e.g. utility bill history, man-hour expenditures, expected lifecycles, etc.), make recommendations and present quantifiable benefits in terms of both economics and sustainability.

Leverage Local, Regional and Federal Funding Sources
Finally, help corporate understand that there are more funding options available if pursued. In the past decade or so, there has been a tremendous increase in capital available from local, state, federal and utility incentives that promote energy efficiency. An excellent source for determining what is available in your area is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE).

There is free money all over the place these days in the form of incentive programs that are attempting to stimulate job growth and the "green company." If you aren’t finding it, you haven't looked hard enough.


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